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A People Person In A People Industry


Supplier Hall of Fame inductee Pat Cordle lauds the generosity, passion and engagement of convenience industry leaders

To say that this year's inductee into the supplier wing of the Convenience Store News Industry Hall of Fame was surprised by this honor from his customers and colleagues would be an understatement.

"When I read the letter informing me that I had been chosen to be inducted into the Convenience Store News Hall of Fame, I first thought that I was being invited to attend the event. It's a great event and I was glad to be invited," said Pat Cordle, who began his career at BIC Corp. in 1986 — one year before the Hall of Fame was launched by the industry's leading media brand.

"As I read the letter a little closer, I realized that I was not being invited; I was being inducted in the Hall of Fame! I was a little stunned, shocked and excited all at the same time. This is a great honor. I really never thought that I would be recognized in this way."

It was a reaction that many would say is typical of the modest, always smiling and charismatic leader who has been associated with the convenience store industry for the past quarter-century and a prominent member of the NACS Supplier Board since 2000.

In an interview with CSNews during October's NACS Show in Chicago, Cordle made it clear that he enjoys working in the convenience store industry, which he described as a vibrant, growing industry with a strong future for both retailers and suppliers.

"This is a great industry, made of great leaders," he said. "I see retailers and suppliers consistently raising their standard of operations. The design of stores, their food offerings, how they operate — you see this wave of continuous improvement in the convenience industry. That's exciting."

Family is one characteristic that distinguishes the convenience store industry. "A predominant number of operators in this industry are family companies, or family owned and operated. They've vested their lives in their businesses. They are very serious about their business and focused on improving their business. That family proponent really adds a personal character that is a real strength for their business. They put a personal signature on their business. It's a reflection of who they are as a family."

These family companies build up what Cordle calls a "great cultural loyalty." He noted, "They're very competitive and always seek new ways to improve their business, but at the same time, they share their ideas with other members of the industry."

Cordle "is just the epitome of a great guy," said 2008 retailer Hall of Fame inductee Bill Douglass, chairman of Douglass Distributing in Sherman, Texas. "He is known for his business commitment, honesty, integrity and enthusiasm. The industry today does not have a finer supplier representative than Pat."

Cordle grew up in Seattle. "When I was very young, I wanted to be a professional basketball player. However, when I reached high school, I realized I didn't have the talent or desire to live out that dream," he told CSNews.

He attended college on a partial athletic scholarship for participating on the cross country and track teams. "I really enjoyed running and the team atmosphere. I thought I might like to coach at the high school or college level," he related.

During his sophomore year, though, Cordle took a class in business administration and was hooked. He found the business world "interesting, challenging and very dynamic." He finished his undergraduate degree in accounting at Western Washington University and later completed his master's degree in business administration at the University of Denver.

After working as an accountant, Cordle decided that he wanted more people interaction, so he pursued a career in sales, which he thought would be interesting and challenging. Following a number of interviews with various companies, he found BIC to be the best fit for him.

"BIC is a company that encourages entrepreneurism and innovation; I enjoy our company's culture," he said. "Over the 25 years I've been with BIC, I have had the opportunity to work in the various industries with which we do business. My responsibilities have always included the convenience store industry, and particularly over the last 18 years, I have focused responsibility on the convenience industry."

He found his new career more rewarding than accounting. "My favorite part of the job is working closely with our customers. I really like discussing ways to build our mutual business, merchandising products in-store and finding new ways to promote our customer's brand and the BIC brand," said Cordle.

He noted that because he works with customers across the country, he gets a great exposure to ideas and business practices from all over the United States. "Our industry is very open to sharing best practices and challenging each other to be better," he added. "Most retailers encourage us to share ideas and best practices with non-competing retailers and improve the total quality of our convenience store industry."

Cordle attributes his strong work ethic to his father's influence. "I observed him doing work around the house and I visited him at his [job]," recalled Cordle. "My father always put 100 percent effort into whatever he was working on. He used to say, 'If you're going to do something, do it right the first time.' I think my father's focus on putting a full effort behind what I do, combined with my athletic experience of 'never give up,' have shaped my attitude to succeed in my professional and personal goals."

"Pat is a great supplier of a mega brand for our stores," said Mary Szarmach, vice president of trade marketing for Smoker Friendly International. "He is always willing to listen to new ideas, help solve problems when they occur and partners with Smoker Friendly to help build a solid business. All this, in addition to his good looks and charming personality, makes him a true Hall of Famer in my book!"

Of all the things he likes about the industry, Cordle said it's the people who make the convenience industry a very special place to work. "The people in the convenience store industry are very hard working and very innovative," he said. "With approximately 146,000 convenience stores across America, our industry is super competitive. It's not uncommon to have three or four competitors on a single street corner. Yet we routinely share best practices in vehicles like our industries' trade magazines, the NACS SOI, NACS Ideas 2 Go and industry study groups."

He also lauded the generosity he sees from retailers. "Convenience store people support both local and national charities, always finding new ways to raise funds for worthy community projects. With all the work to be done on a daily basis, the people of the convenience store industry still find time to have fun along the way."

Cordle said he draws inspiration from people in the industry who, in spite of their full workload and company responsibility, find time to connect with others. "We have many, many folks in our industry that serve at a very high level of responsibility in their company, yet they find time to promote charities, connect with store employees on a personal level, and serve on community hospital and industry boards, university committees and even Federal Reserve boards," he noted. "As busy as these folks are, when they're talking to me, I feel as though I'm the only person on the planet. These people are true leaders and they mentor me by their actions."

This supplier executive attributes much of the success of the industry to its focus on the consumers' need for convenience. "Moms, dads and the total workforce across America are time starved between family, work and community responsibilities," he said. "America is clearly 'on the go' and the convenience store industry has been there to meet the needs of our very mobile population."

And, he thinks retailers are getting even better at fulfilling this need. "With an easy-access store design, healthy food offerings and a number of new in-store conveniences, convenience stores are the one-stop-shop destination for America on the go."

As for the future, Cordle predicts that mobile wallets or mobile payment systems will change the way consumers pay for their goods and services. "Consumers' smartphones, acting as a mobile wallet, could be used both at the forecourt and in-store to speed transaction time," he said. "There are plans to connect retailer loyalty programs and mobile couponing into the mobile wallet. The mobile wallet will reinforce the already existing strength of the convenience store industry with an even faster experience. This could present retailers with new opportunities to promote products and offers."

Cordle and his wife Marsha live in Monroe, Conn., and have one daughter, Ami, son-in-law, Shawn, and two grandchildren, Kayla and Chase.

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